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Lian Island, and the Art of the Perfect Beach Wedding Photograph

The beach makes my heart sing. The smell of the salt water, the burn of the hot sand getting hotter and hotter with every step as you dance across the sand to the closest shade, then the feeling of complete freedom as you dive under the water, salt water stinging your eyes.

In the last forty years of my life I have never gone more than three weeks without a visit to the beach, and I mistakenly thought China with its long eastern coastline would have plenty to choose from, but much of the coast is beach-less river delta where rivers widen dramatically to meet the sea over a broad flat tidal expanse of mud. Not ideal for swimming.

When I began to plan our trip I desperately wanted to find a beach, somewhere beautiful and not crowded. I asked around, I consulted maps and guidebooks, but other than the beaches of Qingdao (too crowded) and the beaches of Hainan Island (too far south, and inaccessible without a plane or boat) I drew a blank.
Wasting time one day last week I opened Google Earth and scrolled randomly up and down the east coast, just looking and hoping. Near the town of Lianyungang in Jiangsu province (a place I’d never heard of) was a small island connected to the mainland by what looked like a causeway. As I zoomed in I felt building excitement –  the island had two perfect crescents of sand separated by lush green hills, and other than a small resort development at one end appeared largely uninhabited. Even more promisingly I could see rows of beach umbrellas lining the smaller beach. Yes!

Lian Island turned out to be even better in reality – a laidback seaside world. The island’s entry road is lined with little shops selling retro shell souvenirs line and rows of fresh seafood restaurants, fronted by outdoor tanks of live fish, shrimp, molluscs and crayfish just waiting for customers to come along and choose their own catch of the day. Bypass these if you’re not hungry and drive past the fishing harbour to the island’s northern side where an exquisite small cove called Suma Wan awaits, the lush green jungle tangled with vines and flowers tumbling down the hills to the blue sea. Peacocks wander in and out of the gardens, occasionally showing magnificent plumage and calling their distinctive call through the jungle.

Bookending the beach are two rocky promontories topped with traditional Chinese pavilions. I often forgot where I was as I swam out to deep water, unti I looked up and saw the gracefully upturned eaves in the distance.

The beach itself is perfect – a sheltered cove with fine, shell-strewn sand and lines of thatched beach umbrellas. The only major oversight as far as I can see is the distinct lack of a cocktail bar, but other than that you can keep yourself busy with water bicycling, tumbling around on the water in an inflatable hamster wheel, jetski touring, or just floating around with a fluorescent life preserver around your middle.

What strikes me is that swimming is not a skill possessed by most Chinese visitors to the beach, hardly surprising given China’s massive internal land mass, far from oceans. Mao though, famously swam every day when able in rivers, the ocean, or lakes.
The unfamiliarity with swimming becomes clear from people’s dress – most are wearing bathers bought from the small shop on the beach, and a quite a few are swimming either fully clothed or in their underwear. Adults and children alikeare protected from the waist deep dead calm water by wearing life preservers or clinging to the floating guide ropes in the water. 
The few who can swim do so ostentatiously, dressed in full and proper Olympic swimming kit – short, close-fitting trunks, bathing cap, goggles and nose clip. They go out just deep enough for everyone to see they know what’s what and with great sense of purpose swim a few strokes in no particular direction, then emerge striding from the water. 
It’s a lovely relaxing day, everyone is enjoying themselves in the sun….and then the brides and grooms arrive, all fifty-eight of them, over the next few hours.
江苏省连岛——海滩露营

我的家乡澳大利亚,最让我怀念的事物之一就是海滩。在我人生过去的四十年的岁月中,我最多三个星期就要去海滩一次,而我误以为中国拥有绵长的东海岸当然也拥有很多海滩,但事实上大多数海岸是海滩稀少的广阔无垠的三角洲。

当我开始计划我们的旅行时,我十分迫切地想找到一处美丽但不拥挤的海滩。我四处询问,借助于地图和旅游指南,但是除了青岛的海滩(非常拥挤)和海南岛(位于遥远的南方,且必须搭乘飞机或船才能到达),我一无所获。

上周某一天我为了消磨时间打开谷歌地图随便浏览了一下东海岸,无意中发现,靠近 江苏省连云港市有一个小岛。随着我将画面推近,不由得有一丝兴奋——岛上有两处沙滩,中间隔着郁郁葱葱的小山,而且仅有一小部分得到了开发,在另一头则大部分无人居住。更令我充满希望的是哪里有成排的沙滩阳伞。太棒了!

连岛与大陆由中国最长的长堤连接在一起,当你通过长堤时你就会进入一个悠闲的海边世界。进岛公路上卖贝壳纪念品的小商店零次栉比,成排的海鲜饭店提供自家当日捕捞的成箱的鱼类,贝类和虾类水箱被放在室外供客人自行挑选。

途经这些,如果你尚不觉得饥饿,可以驶过捕鱼码头开往小岛的北边,那里有一处精致的小海湾在静候您的光临,郁郁葱葱的丛林沿山蜿蜒融入蓝色的海洋。孔雀们在花园中闲庭信步,时不时展开美丽的尾巴,引得周围的人们欣喜不已。

海滩被设为游泳场所,这个地方有干净清凉的水,柔软的沙子,并且为每一个人都准备了充分的活动——独木舟、快艇、水上摩托或者就在水中悠闲地呆着放松。

很搞笑的是,当我们都很努力地要把我们苍白凄凉的皮肤晒成古铜色的时候,我们身旁的中国游客们从头到脚都裹得严严实,还打着伞来保护他们美丽的白色肌肤免受日光侵扰。当我 今晚躺在这儿,皮肤被晒得又红又烫时,我倒是也希望自己能有白白的肌肤。


Beach Wedding Photography, Chinese Style

The clutch of brides, more beatiful than the white peacocks roaming the beachside gardens, spill out of a minivan in full wedding regalia, long white dresses sweeping the ground, hair arranged in sleek black chignons topped with dramatic headpieces crusted with flowers and pearls, and ears heavy with long pearl and diamante drops. 

Their eyes, heavily rimmed with kohl, turn towards us oddly dressed foreigners in our swimming costumes and towels as if to question the suitability of our attire for attending the beach, and then with one long sweep they scoop up the trailing trains of their dresses over their arms, revealing scuffed plastic Crocs and cutoff denim shorts. The illusion dissolves immediately.
We follow them down the wooden stairs, all six bridal couples accompanied by a brace of photographers, assistants, make-up artists and gophers carrying assorted props – bags of fake floral bouquets, rainbow-coloured windmills, a violin in a case, a red and white life buoy, and six reflector screens covered in foil.
The Chinese wedding photography industry is a mysterious country of its own, with its own government and bylaws, its own ethnic factions, and its own currency and festivals. Couples enter into this land through the portal of glittering shops with names like Paris and LoveWedding, where they sit for days with wedding consultants poring over style books to decide on the style of wedding they would like, the only irony being there is no wedding and they’re not actually married. 
The actual wedding, compared to the splendor of the wedding photography, will be a drab affair months later involving five hundred guests in a fancy Chinese restaurant surrounded by life-size images of the couple as they appeared in their wedding dream, as realized by those magician photographers on a memorable day in the distant past.
Like all magicians, there is a great deal of smoke and mirrors involved in the transformation of a pair of short-sighted graphic designers from Lianyungang into a romantic beachside vision of true love. Here’s how it’s done.
The wedding dresses are made of machine-washable synthetic, one size fits all, and are fastened with bulldog cips at the back if you’re on the small side, or an infinitely expandable corsetry lacing if you’re not. The grooms, in white suits with ruffled shirts and enormous collars chosen to match the wedding dress, look stiff and uncomfortable as they’re directed into position. But the suits are completely wrinkle-free.

The make-up, lavishly applied to both bride and groom, is made from heat, sun and sand-resistant polymers that probably last for days afterwards on your skin.

Props are chosen, poses are positioned, and then the couple strip down to their underwear right there on the beach and change into Bridal Ensemble Number Two, usually a brightly coloured version of Bridal Ensemble Number One. And the whole scene is repeated in blazing technicolour polyester.

After watching this magic for two whole days and more than forty couples on Suma Wan’s tiny and now very crowded beach I have realised there are five standard poses in any Magic Beach Wedding photography set:

1.  The Standard – bride and groom side by side at the shore line, dress draped artfully on the sand. Variations include props placed artfully on the draped dress, such as dried starfish or the jaunty red and white life preserver.
2. The Distance Shot – often the groom stands behind the bride, facing away but looking back wistfully at her over his shoulder
3. The Happy-Go-Lucky shot – this involves hands in the air, or kicking water, or jumping simultaneoulsy. It doesn’t usually involve a group of swimmers and four other couples in various stages of dress/undress, as shown here.
4. The Groom Solo Shot – embracing married life, as it were.
5. The Novelty Shot. This involves the couple bringing something of their own personalities to the scene – crazy glasses, funny hats, or in this case a pair of bunny hand puppets. I know, I know – you wish you’d thought of this for your wedding photos too.

So there you have it, Chinese wedding photography for the uninitiated. Dusk falls, golden hour is over and the couples traipse in a straggling column back up the steps. The dresses and suits have been stuffed tightly into bags for washing.
At last, the beach is empty and the only sign of the photographic love fest that has just taken place is a lone pair of false eyelashes, marooned on the sand.

Suma Bay Eco Park
suma gang shengtai yuan
苏马港生态园
Admission: Adults 50 yuan, Children 25 yuan, Vehicles 15 yuan
Open daily 9am-6pm
Beachside overnight cabins available for rent
小贴士:
连岛有两个公共海滩。大的海滩(入场费50元)最靠近长堤。小的海滩,——苏马湾,在岛的北边,可以搭乘小公交或者私人小车前往。
苏马湾:大人50元,1.3米以下儿童25元,轿车15元。
海滩活动100-200元。


Campsite Notes: Lian Dao

We camped in the small secluded carpark just west of the Suma Bay Eco Park ticket office and entrance – the park closes at 6pm so the nearby carpark is empty at night. Between 7pm and 8.30am next day there were no other cars.
We considered overstaying closing time within the park itself but all the suitable parking sites have CCTV cameras so it seemed likely we would be moved on by the staff as they left for the day.

Co-ordinates: Lat  34.757590° Long 119.492593°
Water: nil
Electricity: nil 
Public Facilities: nil
Quietness: Crickets and breezes
Nearest water/groceries: Liandao village, at the entry road to the island (limited supplies)
Outlook: overlooks ocean


Beachcombing, Rockhopping, Freewheeling

Sea urchins are an amazing piece of natural architecture, arent they? These beautiful photos were taken while beach-combing on Bruny Island, jumping from rock to rock and discovering tiny hidden worlds within a single rock pool. I’d planned a lovely post to go with them about going slow and taking time to get lost in the small, beautiful things in life…..but instead I’m cramming like crazy for my last Chinese exam tomorrow morning. I’ll let you know how I go. In the meanwhile, the sentiment is here in pictures……

A Day in the Life of a Shanghai Beach Bum on Holidays….

I’ve just spent the most fabulous four days at Noosa Beach, about two hours north of my hometown, Brisbane. It’s a tough life, what with the brilliant blue water, the brilliant blue sky, and the white sandy beach. Here’s my typical Noosa day – it’s what I daydream about when it’s cold, grey and smoggy back in Shanghai. 
10am: It’s low tide and time to warm up on the beach in the sunshine, then dive in for a bracing swim in the slighlty chilly winter waters. Yes, this is mid-winter in Australia. 

11am: Raspberry snowcones all round from the cart parked on the beach, because by now it’s pretty hot – about 28 degrees. Then some more lying in the sun to warm up after the icy treat.
12.30pm: Lunch at Bistro C – a Noosa institution, right on the beach. You can wander right in from the sand, footwear optional. Big appetite essential, for today’s specials – barramundi fillet on pesto polenta with a ragu of tomatoes and pinenuts, or a tangled salad of chicken, coriander, cashews and tofu with sour, spicy nam jin dressing. Big, robust Australian flavours.
3pm: We skip Bistro C’s dessert menu in favour of a walk down the boardwalk to Massimo’s Icecream. The flavours are all seasonal, so being winter we can choose from passionfruit, strawberry, or lemon fruit sorbets, or one of a dozen creamy flavours – milk and cream, amaretto, creme caramel, bitter chocolate, amongst other irresistable creations. Every one delicious. Nearby, the gum trees are all in blossom and the heavy honey scent is attracting dozens of rainbow lorikeets and other native birds.
5.30pm: The tide has come in and the after-work surfers and paddleboarders have arrived to catch a few waves at the end of their working day. The early sunset casts a golden light over the sand and turns the water a deep sapphire blue.

6pm: The sunset deepens. Fire red and molten gold fill the sky.

6.40pm: The sun sets, the sky begins to darken and the temperature finally drops to a chillier 16 degrees. I’ve just ordered fish and chips from the takeaway, and we’ll sit on the balcony of our apartment listening to the last of the birdsong while we eat. 

Noosa Surfers, Sunset

From the bush to the beach….I’m spending a couple of days in one of my favourite, favourite places – Noosa beach. Noosa is a tiny turquoise jewel of a beach, surrounded on both sides by natural wilderness, between which lies a pocket of real-estate filled with some of Australia’s best restaurants and cafes. If you look out to the sea you will see nothing but water and sky, but turn around to face the other direction and there’s a choice of seven fresh dining options without even leaving the sand.
The evening I arrived saw the tail end of a storm being blown out to sea. The beach was bathed in the pink light of the setting sun and the surfers had all arrived to take advantage of the waves created by the storm. It was a magical scene.



Happy Australia Day


I have been holidaying at home for the last two weeks, in sunny Queensland. Today is Australia Day, so we headed to Little Cove at Noosa for an early morning swim (compulsory Australia Day activity). Other Australia Day must-dos include drinking beer, putting Australian flag tattoos on your face, having a BBQ with sausages in bread with tomato sauce, and apparently, thong throwing. The kind you wear on your feet, that is.